University of Virginia study: Tell kids that middle school is not the end of life, cool kids in middle school often have problems later

4 Aug

Javier Panzar reported in the Los Angeles Times article, ‘Cool’ kids in middle school struggle in their 20s, study finds:

In the study, published Thursday in the journal Child Development, scientists tracked nearly 200 13-years-olds in the Southeastern United States for 10 years, gauging how much they valued their popularity, how important appearance was in seeking out friends and if they used drugs or had romantic relationships.
The study found that young teens who acted old for their age by sneaking into movies, forming early romantic relationships, shoplifting and basing friendships on appearance were seen by peers as popular. But as these “pseudomature” teens and their less adventurous counterparts matured, their behavior was no longer linked with popularity.
Instead, they were thought to be less socially competent by their peers and had more problems with substance abuse, said Joseph Allen, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and lead author on the study.
Allen said the average “cool” teen, by age 22, had a 45% greater rate of problems due to substance use and a 22% greater rate of criminal behavior compared with the average teen in the study.
“Teens are intimidated by these kids, and parents are intimidated because they think that these pseudomature kids are on the fast track,” Allen said in an interview Thursday with the Los Angeles Times. “These kids are on the fast track, but it’s really to a dead end.
“They are gaining the appearance of maturity, but they are not gaining actual maturity.”
Researchers suggest that these kids spend so much time trying to gain status, they don’t develop the positive social skills needed for meaningful friendships.
The study followed 86 male and 98 female middle school students for a 10-year period beginning in 1998, and it yielded some surprises, Allen said.

Here is the University of Virginia news release:

News Updates
For Middle Schoolers, Research Shows It’s Cool Not to Be Cool
New research by Youth-Nex faculty affiliate Joseph Allen shows that trying to being cool in early teens predicts more problems in early adulthood.
“According to the study, which surveyed 184 seventh- and eighth-graders and then followed up with them 10 years later, the kids who were involved in minor delinquent behaviors or precocious romance and obsessed with physical appearance and social status were much worse off in adulthood than their less “cool” friends.
Allen found that at 22 or 23 years old, these kids had 45 percent higher rates of alcohol and drug problems and 22 percent higher rates of criminal behavior; their ratings of social competency — their ability to have normal and positive relationships with others — were 24 percent lower than their peers.”
Read Study.
Wall Street Journal Video: “How Long Does the ‘Cool Kid’ Effect Last?”!5B2198BA-501C-43CF-9EEC-7B26C0575F78

New York Times, “Thirteen in Years, but 10 or 15 in Thoughts and Action”
Other Media:

CNN Video – Cool kids study offers ‘revenge’ for nerds

The Boston Globe, “Being a ‘cool’ kid has downside later on, study shows”

The Washington Post – The middle school ‘cool kids’ are not alright

Business Insider – Researchers Figured Out What Really Happens To Cool Kids When They Grow Up

Here is the news release from the Society for Research in Child Development:

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Contact: Hannah Klein
Society for Research in Child Development

New study sheds light on what happens to ‘cool’ kids
Teens who tried to act cool in early adolescence were more likely than their peers who didn’t act cool to experience a range of problems in early adulthood, according to a new decade-long study. The study, by researchers at the University of Virginia, appears in the journal Child Development.
While cool teens are often idolized in popular media—in depictions ranging from James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause to Tina Fey’s Mean Girls—seeking popularity and attention by trying to act older than one’s age may not yield the expected benefits, according to the study.
Researchers followed 184 teens from age 13, when they were in seventh and eighth grades, to age 23, collecting information from the teens themselves as well as from their peers and parents. The teens attended public school in suburban and urban areas in the southeastern United States and were from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds.
Teens who were romantically involved at an early age, engaged in delinquent activity, and placed a premium on hanging out with physically attractive peers were thought to be popular by their peers at age 13. But over time, this sentiment faded: By 22, those once-cool teens were rated by their peers as being less competent in managing social relationships. They were also more likely to have had significant problems with alcohol and drugs, and to have engaged in criminal activities, according to the study.
“It appears that while so-called cool teens’ behavior might have been linked to early popularity, over time, these teens needed more and more extreme behaviors to try to appear cool, at least to a subgroup of other teens,” says Joseph P. Allen, Hugh P. Kelly Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, who led the study. “So they became involved in more serious criminal behavior and alcohol and drug use as adolescence progressed. These previously cool teens appeared less competent—socially and otherwise—than their less cool peers by the time they reached young adulthood.”
The study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Summarized from Child Development, What Ever Happened To The ‘Cool’ Kids? Long-Term Sequelae Of Early Adolescent Pseudomature Behavior by Allen, JP, Schad, MM, Oudekerk, B, and Chango, J (University of Virginia). Copyright 2014 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.
Middle school aged students are particularly vulnerable because they are in the midst of emotional and physical transitions.

Goodlettsville Middle School posted a good list of characteristics of the average middle school student:

Developmental Characteristics of Middle School Students
Intellectual Development:
Are egocentric; argue to convince, and exhibit independent, critical thought
• Face decisions that may affect long term academic values
• Are intensely curious
• Personal-social concerns dominate, academics are secondary
• Move to abstract ways of thinking which allow for:
o projection of thoughts to the future
o establishing of goals
o consideration of ideas contrary to fact
o questioning of attitudes, behaviors, and values
o ability to think about thinking and how they learn
• Prefer active over passive learning experiences and cooperative learning activities
• Enjoy learning skills to apply to real life problems and situations
Physical Development:
Concerned about their physical appearance
• Experience accelerated physical development marked by increases in weight and height
• Experience fluctuations in metabolism causing extreme restlessness and listlessness
• Mature at varying rates; girls develop physically earlier than boys
• Lack physical health and have poor level of endurance, strength, and flexibility
• Have appetites for peculiar tastes; you adolescents may overtax their digestive systems with large amounts of improper foods
Psychological Development:
Easily offended and sensitive to criticism
• Exhibit erratic emotions and behavior
• Are moody and restless; often feel self-conscious and alienated, lack self-esteem, and are introspective
• Are optimistic and hopeful
• Search for adult identity and acceptance
• Strive for a sense of individual uniqueness
• Are vulnerable to one-sided arguments
• Exaggerate simple occurrences and believe that person issues are unique to themselves
• Have an emerging sense of humor
• Have emotions that are frightening and poorly understood, often triggered by hormonal imbalances. These may cause regression to more childish behavior patterns
Social Development:
Act out unusual or drastic behavior. At times, they may be aggressive, daring, boisterous, and argumentative.
• Confused and frightened by new school settings that are large and impersonal
• Are fiercely loyal to peer group values and sometimes cruel and insensitive to those outside of the peer group
• Are rebellious toward parents, but still strongly dependent on parental values
• Negative interactions with peers, parents, and teachers may compromise ideals and commitments
• Challenge authority figures and test limits of accepted behavior
• Distrust relationships with adults who show lack of sensitivity to adolescent needs
• Use peers and media role models as sources for standards of behavior
• Sense the negative impact of adolescent behavior on parents and teachers
• Desire love and acceptance from significant adults
Moral and Ethical Development:
Ask broad unanswerable questions about the meaning of life
• Depend on influence of home and church for moral and ethical choices and behaviors
• Explore the moral and ethical issues that confront them in the curriculum, the media, and daily interactions with their families and peer groups
• Are idealistic and have a strong sense of fairness in human relationships
• Are reflective, introspective, and analytical about their thoughts and feelings
• Experience thoughts and feeling of awe and wonder related to their expanding intellectual and emotional awareness
• Face hard moral and ethical questions for which they are unprepared to cope

There are no perfect people, no one has a perfect life and everyone makes mistakes. Unfortunately, children do not come with instruction manuals, which give specific instructions about how to relate to that particular child. Further, for many situations there is no one and only way to resolve a problem. The Child Development Institute has a good article about how to help your child develop healthy self esteem.


Characteristics of Middle Grade Students

Middle School Education – Developmental Characteristics

The Young Adolescent Learner

Traits & Characteristics of Middle School Learners

Association for Middle Level Education: AMLE

Know your students: Nature of the middle school student

NEA – Brain Development in Young Adolescents

Emotional Development in Middle School |

Where information leads to Hope. © Dr.

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